Sahara Sky takes Met Mile in thriller

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New approachBy RICHARD ROSENBLATTAP Sports Writer

Joel Rosario keeps finding his way to the winner's circle.

The jockey did it again in the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap on Monday, with Sahara Sky and Rosario barreling down the middle of the track and nipping Cross Traffic at the wire to win by a nose at Belmont Park.

''I was thinking I won, but it was so close, and I was so far to the outside, sometimes it's hard to tell,'' Rosario said.

It was a disappointing finish for John Velazquez, aboard Cross Traffic.

''He ran good and got nailed at the wire,'' he said. ''There's not much else to say.''

Rosario continues to accumulate big wins in the best season of his career. The 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic won the $10 million Dubai World Cup with Animal Kingdom and then rode Orb to victory in the Kentucky Derby. He's the nation's leading rider and now adds the prestigious Met Mile to his expanding resume. And on June 8, he's likely to get a chance to win the Belmont Stakes with Orb.

Sahara Sky is not new to Rosario. He rode the 5-year-old horse two years ago in California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, and was aboard in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct last month, when he finished second after a late rally came up short in a loss to Swagger Jack.

''One of our goals was to win the Metropolitan Mile,'' said Hollendorfer, who co-owns Sahara Sky with Kim Lloyd. ''I've never won it. We had a little added confidence because we thought our horse race good in New York (in the Carter).''

This time, Sahara Sky's rally was good enough. Cross Traffic took the lead in the stretch and seemed headed to victory before Sahara Sky unleashed his winning run from near the back of the nine-horse field. He was sixth with a quarter mile to go.

''He's the kind of horse that makes one little, late run,'' Rosario said. ''If you push him a little early, he kind of stays there, but when he's like that, far back, he'll give it to you.''

Cross Traffic, breaking from the No. 1 post, went right to the front and was followed by Handsome Mike. When the field turned for home, Sahara Sky got through a group of bunched horses and went on to win for the third time in four starts this year.

Sahara Sky returned $11.60, $6 and $3.80 as the third betting choice on a warm sunny day. Cross Traffic, trained by Todd Pletcher, paid $5.10 and $3.40. Flat Out, the 5-2 favorite who had won all four of his starts at Belmont, paid $2.80 to show. The winning time was 1:34.17.

Mark Valeski was fourth, followed by Fed Biz, Fort Loudon, Swagger Jack, Handsome Mike and Discreet Dancer.

Bill Mott, who trains Flat Out, said his 7-year-old horse got bounced around with five sixteenths of a mile to go and it cost him momentum.

''It's pretty hard for me to fault Junior,'' Mott said of jockey Junior Alvarado. ''At that time, it looked like the path of least resistance - until he got there.''

The win was worth $450,000 and more than doubled Sahara Sky's earnings to $886,680.

Also Monday, Midnight Lucky ($4.20) took control heading into the stretch and pulled away for a 6 1/4-length win over Close Hatches in the $300,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

For trainer Bob Baffert, it was his third Acorn win in the past five years - he won last year with Contested and in 2009 with Gabby's Golden Girl. Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Midnight Lucky came into the race off her only loss in four starts - a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Kauai Katie was third.

The winning time was 1:35.11.

''We had a great trip,'' Napravnik said. ''This filly just did it very easily.''

Tiz Miz Sue ($10.80) held off Authenticity by a half-length in the $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap for fillies and mares. The 6-year-old mare trained by Steve Hobby won for the second time in her last three starts and earned her first Grade 1 victory.

Ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., Tiz Miz Sue covered the 1 1-16 miles in 1:40.81, collected $240,000 and topped $1 million in career earnings.

''She deserved (a Grade 1) so bad and I was really going to be upset if she didn't get one before she retired,'' Hobby said.

Discreet Marq ($7.80), making her first start for trainer Christophe Clement, went wire-to-wire for a three-quarter length win over Wave Theory in the Grade 2 Sands Point for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. Discreet Marq, ridden by Jose Lezcano, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.50. The filly was 1 for 6 under two previous trainers. Watsdachances, the 2-1 favorite, was third.


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